Why Should I Use an Adoption Doctor?

Part of becoming an adoptive parent is realizing that you will have to navigate certain situations differently than biological parents do. Filling out school forms, interacting with other parents, signing your kids up for extracurricular activities. These situations often make you realize a) how truly ignorant about adoption many people and institutions still are and b) your role as an advocate for not just your adopted child, but adoption as a whole. One of the areas where many adoptive parents report meeting with frustration is in dealing with pediatricians or other doctors. Many doctors offices still have outdated paperwork that doesn’t allow you to designate yourself as your child’s parent, or it requires you to cross things out, fill in your own info, or leave certain sections blank. For example, if they ask for any chronic health conditions that your child’s family may have, odds are good you may not know this information. Even if you do have the info, frankly it is hard enough for me to remember what my grandparents’ health conditions were, let alone health conditions for people I have never met. You’ll also, unfortunately, be faced with nurses and even doctors who say ignorant or even hurtful things about adoption, even in front of your child. Asking inappropriate questions about birth parents, referring to birth parents as your child’s “real” parents, asking why the birth parents “gave” your child “away.” These are all things many adoptive parents have faced in doctor’s offices. Apparently, not all physicians have gotten the memo when it comes to using adoption-positive language!

So then, how do you find healthcare professionals that are understanding of the complexities of adoption? Many physicians, especially pediatricians, have undergone special training in working with adoptive parents and adopted children. If your child was adopted internationally, they may have health concerns that a standard pediatrician may be unable to address. So, how do you go about finding an adoption-friendly doctor? In most cases, Google will do the heavy lifting for you. When our daughter was born, I knew I wanted to see a pediatrician that had experience working with adoptive families. I had enough to deal with having a newborn; I didn’t need to deal with any ignorance from healthcare professionals on top of that! So, I Googled “adoption doctor” and the city we lived in at the time. I was lucky to find a doctor very close to us who had extensive experience working with adoptive families and children that had been adopted both domestically and internationally. It was a relief to know that I had someone who we could bring our daughter to for baby visits who wouldn’t make me want to pull my hair out by asking inappropriate questions.

Some areas you may not be as lucky to find a pediatrician who has this specialization. We moved to a smaller town when my daughter was still a baby, and there is no “adoption pediatrician” in this area. I had to do a little more hunting and ask friends and family for recommendations. Start by consulting the list of pediatricians in your area that are in the network for your insurance. Visit their websites, look at their new patient forms, call their offices, and ask them how many adoptive families they work with. If time permits, make an appointment to visit them without your child and talk to them to gauge how adoption-friendly they are. If you have friends who are adoptive parents who live in your area, ask them who their child sees. 

A second category of “adoption doctor” are specialists who focus their entire practice on working solely with children that have been adopted. Many of them focus even further to specialize on working with newly arrived internationally adopted children. These children, depending on where they are from, will have specialized health concerns such as malnutrition, parasites, or developmental delays that the average pediatrician will not have enough experience with. These adoption doctors usually work for a hospital system and tend to be found mainly in large metropolitan areas. If you live a few hours from an adoption doctor and have adopted a child who has special health care needs, it may be worth it to periodically make the trek to have your child evaluated by an adoption doctor. Adoption doctors can also review children’s files prior to placement to anticipate any healthcare concerns they may have and can help parents decide if they want to accept a match. It can be overwhelming to be matched with a child who is described as having medical or developmental issues, and having an expert who can explain to you what the treatment for those concerns looks like both short and long-term can help you make the decision that is best for your family. Many families who adopt internationally make an adoption doctor their first stop on the way home. Rather than heading straight home, they will spend several days in the city the adoption doctor practices in to have their child triaged by the adoption doctor and start treatment for any health concerns before heading home. These doctors can also recommend competent specialists in your area who you can work with for any of your child’s medical or developmental needs after he or she comes home.